Q&A with Laura Lott

Rebecca Atkinson, 09.04.2015
The head of AAM on challenges and opportunities for US museums
Laura Lott was appointed president and chief executive officer of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) last month. She joined the organisation in 2010 as the chief operating officer, having previously worked as the chief financial officer and the chief operating officer of the Jason Project, an international education programme at the National Geographic Society.   

Lott is the ninth president of the 109-year-old organisation and the first woman to lead the alliance. She replaces Ford Bell, who will retire in May.

What plans do you have for the AAM as its new president and chief executive officer?

My vision is for the alliance to be the go-to place for the museum community to get inspired, to get information and to get support to better position museums for the future, serving increased and increasingly diverse audiences.

I look forward to strengthening the AAM’s role as a thought-leader for the field, through an expanded Center for the Future of Museums among other things. We will further diversify our community of 4,000 museums and 22,000 museum professionals by expanding our work globally to facilitate cultural exchange and learning.

In the US there is still much work to be done on making sure decision makers know and protect the vital role of museums in their communities, in the economy and particularly in our education system.

What challenges are facing museums in the US and how can a membership body like the AAM support organisations?

Changing funding models, increased competition for audiences’ time and attention, and the rapid evolution of technology are all challenges – and great opportunities for museums.

Increasingly we want to facilitate more research and innovation into critical issues that museums want and need to address to build strong futures. We hope to advance this work through a new fellowship program that will invite thought leaders, perhaps from outside the museum field, to focus on a particular trend and pursue innovation with museums and their communities through innovation labs.

The AAM is also in a great position to broker global partnerships between museums around the globe, and between museums and related sectors such as education, travel and tourism, and technology.

How important are international partnerships?

Museum exchange across national borders is critical to US museums – and is a priority for the alliance. There are many things we can learn from each other, from successful business and engagement models to globalised audience engagement.

The AAM is actively pursuing collaborative opportunities in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. For example, the alliance is partnering with an organisation in Argentina to put together a first-of-its-kind conference to engage museum leaders on inter-American museum practices and innovation.  

The alliance is looking forward to more collaborative efforts like this, as well as on more technical issues such as standards and best practice, and excellence for both institutions and individuals.  We believe that US and UK museums are stronger when we work together for the mutual benefit of all institutions.  

What developments in the museum sector most excite you?

The changing landscape of education in the US is really exciting and holds a lot of promise for museums to be recognised for their vital role in a new education system that I think will evolve over the next decade.

Museums are beginning to move into the mainstream of providing core education—it’s not just about field trips anymore. Online learning draws on a burgeoning collection of free, online digital content from museums. Museums also provide after-school programmes, home school learning, internships and their own online courses.

A new association for museum schools (schools that offer immersive, experiential learning based in museums) already has over two dozen members. The Grand Rapids Public Museum School in Michigan just opened with 160 applications for 60 seats.

We see a future in which every learner incorporates museum resources, place-based or digital, into their personalised learning plan.

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